“Bem vindo a Lisboa!” – That’s how you’ll be greeted by a local in Lisbon. By the way, the Portuguese pronunciation of the city is “Lishbua”! You’ll have heard all about Portugal’s capital during this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. But the city has much more to offer than just being a music venue. Next to all the culture, the party and culinary opportunities in the city are endless. You’ll find out all about the “must see or dos” of Lisbon in my following article.
My name is Katharina and I spent some wonderful days in Portugal during my backpacking trip last year. Of course the capital of Lisbon was right at the top of my list. Below you can read about the highlights that I experienced during my trip.
I recommend taking a good and comfy pair of shoes when coming to Lisbon. Like Rome, the town is built on seven hills. Especially going downhill on the cobblestones can therefore be a slippery affair. But it is these hills that also provide magnificent views of the city. The so-called “Miradouros” – the viewpoints – are spread over the entire city and give visitors the opportunity to look at the town from above. For a particularly stunning view of the entire city and the Tagus River visit the Miradouro Portas do Sol in the old quarter of Alfama (Largo Portas do Sol, Alfama, Lisbon 1100-411, Portugal). You also have a good view of the old town and the monastery of São Vicente de Fora from here.
Just below is the “Miradouro de Santa Luzia”, named after the church of Santa Luzia. You can admire another typical Portuguese thing on its facade: the Azulejos – blue and white tiles with local and historical motifs. On the church one of the pictures shows a representation of Lisbon before the great earthquake, another the legend of Martim Moniz.
Closer to the centre is the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte (Rua Senhora do Monte 50, Lisbon 1170-361, Portugal) – you have a wonderful view of the town centre and especially the Gothic Convento do Carmo from here(Largo do Carmo, 1200-092 Lisboa, Portugal). Since the earthquake in 1755, the ruin of the former church from the 14th-century stands out like a skeleton from the city’s sea of houses.
The “Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara” (R. de São Pedro de Alcantara, 1200-470 Lisboa, Portugal) is bang in the centre of the city. It is the closest to the central metro station Restauradores – it is only about a ten minute walk to the viewpoint from there. However, it’s a steep climb up the path.
For a more leisurely approach, you can also take one of the famous quaint trams – the Elevador da Glória. In contrast to the monochrome models that drive through the city, this one is decorated with colourful graffiti. Depending on the time of day and the season you may have to be patient as many other tourists often want to hop on as well.
The viewpoint of the city par excellence however is the “Miradouro de Santa Catarina” – a colourful mixture of locals, students and tourists meet here every evening to enjoy the sunset together. The view of the bridge Ponte de 25 Abril and the statue of Christ on the other side of the riverbank is truly breath-taking! You can also enjoy the whole spectacle with a glass of “Vinho verde” if you feel like it. This literally means “green wine”, referring, however, to young wine. So don’t be taken aback by the unnatural colour of the drink.
However, Portugal and Lisbon have much more to offer than just the “Vinho Verde” on a culinary level: You can also find port wine and various liqueurs on the drinks menu of any good restaurant. The port wine (Portuguese “Vinho do Porto”) comes, as the name suggests, from the Port of Porto about 300 kilometres away. The sweet wine gained national recognition after Porto concluded trade agreements with Portugal at the beginning of the 14th century and began to import the wine into the United Kingdom. Due to the high sugar and alcohol content of the wine, it didn’t go off as quickly and survived the long routes to England.
For those who like it even sweeter, I can recommend a glass of Ginjinha. The typical Portuguese liquor Ginjinha is made from sour cherries and has a similar alcohol content as the port. The wine originates from the bar “A Ginjinha” (Largo São Domingos 8, 1100-201 Lisboa, Portugal). They’ve been serving the liqueur for over 150 years here. Typically, Ginjinha is drunk from little glasses made of chocolate- a very sweet treat.
But also as far as food is concerned, Lisbon has plenty to offer: the Portuguese national dish is the so-called “Bacalhau”, a salted and dried codfish. The origin of this dish goes back to the time of the Portuguese sailors. For the long crossings, the salt cod was dried with plenty of salt and thereby made very long lasting. If you then wanted to prepare it, you just had to put it in water for a few hours to soften it and reduce the salty taste.
Nowadays you can get a very good Bacalhau at the Laurentina, O Rei do Bacalhau for example (Av Conde Valbom, 71A, 1050-067 Lisbon, Portugal). “Peticos” are perfect for a small snack. They literally translate into “little things” are usually small fried snacks with various fillings, which include, among others, Empanadas and Bolinhos de Bacalhau: Small pastries filled with potatoes and cod fish. The contents of Petiscos can also consist of vegetables or cheese. You can get the little fried snacks on almost every corner, especially in the district Bairro Alto.
The sweet end to a typical Portuguese meal is the “Pastéis de Nata”. The little sweet pies are made of puff pastry filled with sweet custard and usually sprinkled with a little cinnamon. These are also great for breakfast together with a good milk coffee (galão) or espresso (pica), which cost under a euro in many cafés.
The Pastéis originated in nearby Belém. In the Pastelaria de Belém you can still buy the original pies – the “Pastéis de Belém” (R. de Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal). Only the tartlets from the small town may bear this name and are, in my opinion, even more delicious than the Pastéis de Nata – even if that is hard to believe. 🙂
There is more to Belém than just the delicious pies. The suburbs of Lisbon are best reached by tram E15. A single trip with the E15 costs 2.90 euros and can be purchased at the ticket machine on the tram. The journey takes just under 30 minutes. Since the quarter, whose name is the Portuguese form of Bethlehem, was largely spared by the terrible earthquake in 1755, you can still admire many buildings from before the earthquake.
The most impressive buildings are the Jerónimos Mosteiro and the Torre de Belém, both of which became UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the 1980s. The construction of the monastery began at the beginning of the 16th century, shortly after Vasco de Gama returned from his first trip to India. His grave of honour can be found in the monastery. In addition to the monastery, the Jardim Botânico, the botanical garden, also provides a refuge from the tourist groups.
The Torre de Belém by the Tagus River (Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, Portugal) is just a few minutes’ walk from the monastery. It served as a lighthouse, defensive point and prison at the time. Like the monastery, it dates back to the early 16th century.
Not quite as old, but just as impressive, is the neighbouring Padrão dos Descobrimentos (English: “Monument of the Discoveries”). It was inaugurated in 1960 in honour of Portuguese explorers. The shape is reminiscent of the bow of a ship with inflated sails. The monument commemorates 33 important personalities from different periods of Portuguese history. In front of the monument there is an impressive mosaic that shows the routes of Portuguese explorers – you can admire it particularly well from the viewing platform on the monument.
Another destination that’s just a stone’s throw from the Portuguese capital is Sintra. It’s also worth stopping at the Cabo de Roca – the westernmost point of Europe- on the way there. The easiest and most hassle free way to reach the viewpoint is by renting a car. You can then also admire the beautiful coast during your drive.
In and around Sintra, there are many more sights to visit. First and foremost, the Palácio Nacional da Pena, which rises above the trees like a fairy tale castle with its red and yellow colour.
The garden of the Quinta da Regaleira is also fairytale-like (R. Barbosa do Bocage 5, 2710-567 Sintra, Portugal). The property has a castle and a chapel and above all a breath-taking garden. Here, artificial ruins, secret passages, towers, ponds and grottoes have been created, which you should definitely take time to explore.
Lisbon itself also offers many attractions. The religious buildings of the city are especially beautiful. The white-shining São Vicente de Fora Monastery (Largo de São Vicente, Lisboa, 1100-572, Portugal) dates back to the 16th century and has an impressive interior. Right next to the main entrance there is also a small courtyard planted with beautiful flowers.
The Castelo de São Jorge (R. de Santa Cruz do Castelo, 1100-129 Lisboa, Portugal) was built by the Moors in 1147 and used after the conquest by Alfons the Conqueror as a royal castle for many years. You can still visit the ruins today and enjoy a unique view of the city from the 6,000 square metres of land.
The various squares of the town are also well worth a visit. One of these squares is the Rossio. This has been the main centre of the city since the Middle Ages. However, the official name of the place is Praça de D. Pedro IV, named after King Pedro IV, the later Brazilian Emperor Pedro. I. The bronze statue which is located on the pillar in the middle of the marketplace is also dedicated to him. Close to the Rossio you will also find the Santa Justa Elevador – a passenger lift with observation deck in the heart of the city.
An insider’s tip near the Rossio is the courtyard of the “Casa do Alentejo” (R. das Portas de Santo Antão 58, 1150-043 Lisboa, Portugal). Enter this somewhat hidden courtyard and you’ll feel like you’re in a palace from Arabian nights. Here, the Moorish influences of the city are particularly visible. In addition to the Praça da Figueira, the Praça do Comércio is also one of the most important squares in the town centre.
It is also one of the most popular photo motifs. Before the earthquake in 1755 there was a royal Palace by the river Tejo, on the literally translated trading square. After the reconstruction, however, the square was redesigned to be more free and spacious and many commercial and customs offices settled around the square. The Arco da Rua Augusta especially catches the eye. The Rua Augusta begins here and leads through the heart of the city, the Baixa Pombalina (English: Lower Town).
I especially recommend the walks through the neighbourhoods “Alfama” and “Bairro Alto”. If you don’t want to do this on your own there are guided tours available. The “Free Walking Tours” of the Wild Walkers (http://wildwalkerstours.com/walking-tour/) are especially good and entertaining. With a lot of humour, the guides show you the city and entertain the visitors with anecdotes and stories about the town. A voluntary donation is appreciated at the end. However, tours are only available in English and Portuguese. If you stay in one of the many hostels in Lisbon, you can usually sign up for the tours at the reception. If you have a fixed daily schedule, you should best book online in advance (especially for groups of over six people).
If you want to explore the city sitting down, take the tram line 28. This classic tram goes past many of Lisbon’s sights and departs every 11 minutes. This form of city tour is also much cheaper than traditional tourist buses: you only pay 2.90 € for a single trip. However, many others know that as well, which is why the former insider’s tip is now pretty crowded. Accordingly, you should prepare for long queues.
If you like extraordinary places and want to shop away from the urban pedestrian streets, the LX Factory (R. Rodrigues de Faria 103, 1300-501 Lisboa, Portugal) is just what you are looking for. Since 2007, various alternative shops, restaurants and bars are located here on an old factory site. The bookshop “Ler Devagar” is particularly worth seeing, as the books are stacked on shelves right up to the ceiling. A flea market takes place every Sunday between 11am and 6pm where you can get some second hand bargains as well as unique handmade items at a fair price.
You can then enjoy the end of a successful shopping spree at the “Rio Maravilha rooftop bar”. There is a breath-taking view of the Ponte 25 de Abril and the statue of Christ across the river from here.
The uniforms of the Portuguese students are also exceptional. If you are lucky, you can catch a glimpse of them as they walk through the city in their black cloaks. If the outfits seem strangely familiar, it might be because you’ve seen the Harry Potter films. J.K. Rowling spent some time as an English teacher in Portugal and was inspired by the uniforms of local students.
If you feel like partying in the evening, after exploring the city by daylight, there are a few things you can do in Lisbon. You can find many bars and pubs in the Bairrio Alto quarter. On Rua Nova do Carvalho, which is widely known as Pink Street, especially clubbers get their money’s worth. This street, as its name suggests, is painted pink and leads through the quarter of Cais do Sodré. In any case, it can’t be overlooked.
If you are holidaying in Portugal, you should definitely listen to a Fado concert. This type of music is sung primarily in Lisbon and Coimbra and embodies the so-called “Saudade”. A feeling that describes a mixture of melancholy and weltschmerz. The singing, which is usually only accompanied by a single guitar, sounds correspondingly melancholic. The sad-sounding songs are taken very seriously by the Portuguese. When the light is dimmed you should therefore be quiet and also stop eating. During the concerts there is an air of absolute calm and devotion – if you don’t act accordingly it may happen that you are kindly but firmly asked to leave the bar. Accompanied, of course, by disapproving glares of the locals, which you get for disrespectful behaviour. The concerts are particularly rustic and authentic in the Tasca do Chico (R. do Diário de Notícias 39, 1200-141 Lisboa, Portugal) in Bairro Alto.
As you can see, Lisbon is an incredibly exciting and vibrant city where you could spend several weeks and still discover something new every day. But you can also explore the most important sights in just a few days and experience the culture and charm of Portugal up close and personal – preferably with a glass of Port wine or Vinho Verde! Saúde!